| May 26, 2005

Feature article, May 26, 2005

Feature article May 26, 2005

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Re: Why Medicare must change (Frontenac News, May 12, 2005)

At the risk of starting a family feud between the South Frontenac Sutherlands and the North Frontenac Sutherlands, I feel I must air some dirty laundry. My father, Dr. Ralph Sutherland of Plevna, and I disagree on the state of health care.

In a recent article in the Frontenac News, dad argued that Medicare needs to be changed. Certainly, there are changes that would help make the system more comprehensive and public: but undercutting it will not help.


Our disagreements, like all policy debates reflect different choices. The use of facts reflects a viewpoint, and there will be winners and losers. Dad argues that health care spending is out of control, that it is the cause of the debt and the reason why there is no money for other programs. Not only do his arguments rest on a dubious understanding of the facts, but they primarily serve to benefit those that can afford to pay privately for their health care, and those who own health care corporations.

The losers, in my fathers interpretation, are those who depend on health care being provided as a right of citizenship, most of the population.

Admittedly, there are many factors contributing to our public debt, and lots of considerations in health care spending, but two key points show that public health care costs are not the major problem.

To quote Canadas pre-eminent health economist, Robert Evans, relative to provincial revenues, both Medicare and total provincial health spending are now at or below their levels in the early 1980s.

Health spending is not the problem. What has changed dramatically is that governments have undertaken large tax cuts, mainly to the benefit of big corporations. While the Conservatives were in power in Ontario, tax cuts resulted in a loss of revenue that increased our provincial deficit and debt - a significant part of the reason for our high interest payments. Similarly there is not enough money for other programs because we have reduced our provincial revenue.

But this is only part of the story. Health care spending has increased as our economy has increased, but we are spending our tax dollars less effectively.

The government has steadily increased the for-profit involvement in healthcare. Drugs, the fastest growing segment of health care costs, is dominated by a few trans-national pharmaceutical companies who enjoy very generous patent protection, meaning less money for health care and more money for profits.

Similarly, the recent drive by the provincial Liberals to build for-profit hospitals will cost significantly more. The new Brampton hospital alone will cost at least $167 million more due to extra private sector financing charges. Home care is 20 % more expensive because of the competitive bidding system.

The increases in health care spending have gone to private corporations and we are getting less service. Once again, the wealthy are gaining and the broad public is losing.

I am sure this debate will continue in the kitchen at our next family dinner, but there it is - the Sutherland dirty laundry. Is health care a commodity, like buying a car; or a public service for all Canadians?

Maybe we will have to have a wood splitting contest at dawn in Sharbot Lake to settle the issue.

Ross Sutherland

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